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What is Swollen Leg?

Swollen leg in horses, or filling, is a condition that is a result of one or more legs becoming swollen, due to a variety of causes. Some causes for this condition may be minor and some may be more serious. Swelling of the leg, or legs, in horses may be present in one single leg, only the hind legs, or in all four. Typically, swollen legs occur in the hind legs, and in addition to being called filling, this condition may be also known as stocking up and is quite common.

Since the legs are in the lower part of the body of the horse, as a result of gravity, fluid can build up due to the storing of fluid from blood vessels and within the tissue. This is known as edema, and can occur from issues such as a cut or scratch, to more serious issues such as cellulitis or lymphangitis. Either way, it is important to have a veterinarian take a closer look if your horse has one or more swollen legs.

Cellulitis and lymphangitis are much more serious problems that can be affecting your horse’s legs. Cellulitis is an inflammation of the skin and the soft tissues directly underneath. Lymphangitis develops when the inflammation spreads to deeper tissues and vessels that move lymph through the body. Both are caused by bacterial infections that enter your horse’s skin through an open wound or scratch, and both require prompt veterinary care.

Swollen leg or legs in horses is the result of a build-up of fluid, called edema, in the lower limbs of horses. This can be the result of several different factors, and cases may range from mild to severe.

Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Symptoms of Swollen Leg in Horses

Symptoms horses may have due to this condition are typically observed by the owner. Symptoms of swelling of the legs may include:

  • Swollen leg joint in one leg
  • Swollen leg joints in more than one leg
  • Painful limbs
  • Trauma to the limbs
  • Cuts or scratches on the lower legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Legs are warm to the touch
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Lameness

Types

There are several types of swelling in horses, and other types of swelling can occur in different bodily areas. Types of swelling can include:

  • Cellulitis
  • Lymphangitis
  • Edema
  • Suspensory Injuries
  • Windgall
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Arthritis
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Causes of Swollen Leg in Horses

If your horse’s leg or legs are swollen, there could be several causes. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the precise cause of the swelling. Causes can include:

  • Stall confinement after exercise
  • Not enough exercise
  • Excessive protein in diet
  • Bruising
  • Skin overexposure to moisture
  • Overfeeding
  • Obesity
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Insect bite
  • Scrapes
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Inflammation of the tissue
  • Allergic reaction
  • Inflammation of vessels
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Diagnosis of Swollen Leg in Horses

To begin the diagnostic process, your veterinarian will ask you several questions about your horse’s overall health, his symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, how long they have lasted, and if he has a history of stocking up. 

Once he gets the information from you that he needs, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your horse. He will assess the legs and joints, perform blood work and any other laboratory testing he feels is necessary in order to check for any underlying conditions that may be the cause. This is very important, because some horses have swollen legs from the lifestyle they live or from a more serious condition.

He will also check the blood protein, as low blood protein can make the legs swell. He may also check your horse’s temperature, and may choose to do imaging techniques to look at the insides of his legs. Your horse may be suffering from a vascular condition, a bacterial infection, an allergic reaction, or a viral infection. The medical professional may choose to perform an ultrasound or withdraw fluid from his legs to test. In cases of suspected lymphangitis and cellulitis the veterinarian would need to check the fluid and do complete laboratory testing. The medical professional may also need to come to a diagnosis by utilizing impression smears and bacterial cultures.

Your veterinarian will also want to check to see when the last time your horse had a tetanus shot, in cases of scratches or more serious open wounds. Your veterinarian will also communicate with you if he feels this is a mild case of stocking up, or you as a horse owner may suspect the same and just want to be sure nothing further is wrong.

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Treatment of Swollen Leg in Horses

For mild cases of stocking up, your veterinarian may recommend a more regular turn-out, massaging the legs with oil or liniment, bandaging, or wearing a leg brace. Other treatment methods may include:

Cold Water

Hosing your horse’s legs with cold water or alternating ice compresses with heat may help ease the swelling. This is typically recommended for horses with mild to moderate cases of stocking up.

Treating Abscesses

Your veterinarian may want to drain any abscess your horse may have in his lower legs. Abscesses or infections can occur from scratches, bites, or other trauma to the legs. Once your veterinarian has drained the abscess, he will thoroughly cleanse the affected leg area with a recommended antiseptic.

Antibiotics

In cases of cellulitis or lymphangitis, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. He may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications for any pain and swelling. He will also recommend regular massage in order to stimulate the circulation and in addition, possibly a medicated poultice.

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Recovery of Swollen Leg in Horses

Recovery prognosis is good if your horse has been properly treated. This, of course, depends on the precise cause of the swollen legs. If your horse is suffering from cellulitis or lymphangitis, his recovery will depend on the effectiveness of the medication given and the severity of the infection. These infections can take several weeks to heal, so it is important to be patient in your horse’s healing process.

After treatment, or while you are continuing treatment at home, your veterinarian will explain what you need to do to help him recover. There are things he may recommend you continue doing to prevent swollen legs from happening In the future. Maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition, a fresh, clean stall, exercise on a regular basis, dry legs that are kept clean, and prompt attention to any scratches or bites can help minimize the risk of your horse contracting this condition.

Your veterinarian will want to see your horse regularly for check-ups, and will give you any further advice on what you can do to help him get well again.

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Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Swollen Leg Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Paint

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling Of Hind Leg

The horse Bar somehow found barbed wire in the field yesterday and it wrapped around his hind left pastern and caused swelling to the hip. There was a puncture and abrasion on under the bottom of the fetlock joint. He was cold hoses and iodine was sprayed on it and turned back out. Swelling still hasn’t gone down of this morning and he is still not wanting to apply pressure

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that happened to Bar, that is a potentially Serious injury. It would be best to contact your veterinarian and have them come out and check on him, as he may need antibiotic therapy or other anti-inflammatories. I hope that all goes well for him and he is okay soon.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Breezie

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Quarter Horse

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16 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Heat

My horse's back leg is swollen and warm to the touch.. She doesnt seem to be in any pain while moving, and is just as active as ever. Just wondering if it would be something serious.

Sept. 1, 2018

Breezie's Owner

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Nickel

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Thoroughbred

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Difficulty Walking
Limping
Lameness
Abcess
Hot And Swollen Leg

Is my horse going to be okay? What can I do to help him he’s in a lot of pain and is in too much pain to walk properly. What can I do to make him better and how long will it take? I am really worried that he won’t get better, please get back to me as soon as possible:( he had a abscess in his hoove and the farrier popped it and I’ve been wrapping it up for a few days now but today his leg swelled up and he’s in a lot of pain

Aug. 24, 2018

Nickel's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

Without examining Nickel I cannot give you any indication of severity, prognosis or recommend treatment; the swelling may be attributable to a few different physiological processes and would be best to call out your Veterinarian to examine him to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 24, 2018

Thankyou, I’ll get him to a vet ASAP

Aug. 24, 2018

Nickel's Owner

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Flynn

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Thoroughbred

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9 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling

My horse had a minor bout of cellulitis recently in his hind legs and was treated aggressively with cold water therapy, antibiotics and bute - which has reduce basically all of the swelling. However I am finding that when I bring him out of the paddock, his hind legs are still slightly swollen around the fetlocks. The swelling disappears, however, after exercise - only to reappear when I come out the next morning. He is not bothered by it, there is typically vet slightly to no heat and he is not lame at all. What would you recommend I do to get rid of the swelling, if possible?

July 15, 2018

Flynn's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I worry that the swelling is related to his recent infection, any he may need further treatment related to that. Since I cannot examine him or see what is going on, I have a hard time commenting on how to treat him, but since your veterinarian has recently seen him and knows more about his physical condition, it would be reasonable to call them, describe what is happening, and see if they have any suggestions on what might help.

July 15, 2018

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sheru

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dasi

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14 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Joints

HELLO I have a horse and I really really Love my Horse now a days there are a swollen in front leg and I'm belong to very backward area in pakistan no veterinary here so what will i do for my horse please help me out.

June 6, 2018

sheru's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Without examining Sheru it is very difficult if not impossible to determine the cause and a treatment; especially since you haven’t indicated which joint or area is affected; trauma, other injuries, allergies, insect bites, infections, lymphatic disorders among other causes may lead to swelling. You should call out a Veterinarian regardless of your feelings towards local Veterinarians. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 7, 2018

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Horse

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All Breeds, any age

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20 Years

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Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhoea
Diarrhoea, Scoures
Diarrhoea, Scoures, Colitis

You should mention hypoproteinia as a possible and common cause of swollen legs in horses. - excessive protein loss from e.g. diarrhoea/scouring, colitis. Also changing the severity level to critical as it can be very critical, depending upon the cause.

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Viper

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Thorobred

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9 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Lower Legs,No Heat,Not Lame

I have a 9yr old TB who has 3 swollen legs,2 front and 1 hind all below the knee.No heat,not lame,,no cuts,not stalled.Just added a top dress which ups the protein and has a joint supplement in it.All my other horses have done great on it for years.Just wondering if this could have anything to do with it?

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lady

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TB mare

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3 Days

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling

i have a 3 year old tb, she ran through some metal wire and got 4 medium type cuts, the 2 concerning cuts, one on the knee which had a lot of swelling and one on her tendon which has now got a lump of what looks like scar tissue, the swelling is starting to slowly going down, i had her inside to prevent infection but swelling was getting worse and has gone down considerably since being out. she is not at all lame and runs around the fiels so there isnt much pain. vet prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection. i am looking for advice in how to stop scar tissue and how long should she be off work for?

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Apollo

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Appalloosa

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

All 4 Legs Are Swollen

My horse has 4 swollen legs all the way to the knees. He is not in a stall, he is pastured. He doesn't seem to be in pain. The vet came and took blood, thinking it may be a tick born illness, and we started him on intravenous antibiotics. The results came back negative. All 4 legs are still very swollen, and I don't know what to do, except more antibiotics

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calypso

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Quarter Horse

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3 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling

my horses back right leg is currently swollen from kicking a fence. She is not lame and the swelling and not painful is holding indention when i push on it we do need to sweat it. what is this called?

Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000